01 June 2013

Austerity weights on taxpayers, not migrants!

I have always liked the Financial Times, so as an assiduous and faithful reader, I got quite a shock when I read yesterday's crap editorial supporting the Government's standoff with the European Commission. The FT seems to believe in that mythical beast of ‘benefit tourism', invented by the populist media. People don't normally leave their own country for miserable welfare benefits. There are people, many from the UK, who travel to eastern Europe to get their teeth fixed. Shall we crack down on that?

The proposal by the UK government to restrict access to benefits and, possibly, services for European citizens is a clear case of discrimination on the grounds of nationality and therefore in breach of the Maastricht Treaty. It is also disingenuous, xenophobic and dangerous. It is disingenuous because migrants contribute to the public pursue much more than they receive. This is supported by research at the National Institute of Economic and Social Research and research centres at UCL and the University of Oxford


Migration is vital to economic growth; restrictions on rights will deter migration and impact adversely on the British economy. The British welfare system needs reform, not cut backs. If one is concerned about the costs to the state, one should wonder why the government keeps on following the wrong economic policies. 


It is austerity that is a weight on taxpayers, not migrants!


The move is xenophobic for it fails to recognise the economic and cultural contribution of migrants and the exploitation many of them suffer. It is also dangerous at a time of democratic and economic crisis on which far-right movements are capitalising. The government might cherish a court battle with ‘Europe’ for political expediency, but it is Britain that has everything to lose in giving in to populist xenophobia. It is disconcerting to see the authoritative Financial Times fail to understand the importance of upholding the rights of all citizens, sustaining a liberal economy, and recognising the dignity of all people.

22 April 2013

Immigration Facts (updated)

Here are links with research on immigration:

Migrants contribute £25bn to UK economy, study finds http://t.co/vzmDfdny30

Immigration & (unlikely) pressure on health service in UK & Germany:
http://blogs.lse.ac.uk/europpblog/2012/11/07/immigration-and-health-wadsworth/

The game changer? Immigration & the media:
http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/oana-romocea/immigration-the-game-changer-british-politics_b_3260594.html?utm_hp_ref=tw

Migrants are net contributors:
http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2013/mar/06/uk-benefits-eu-migrants-what-crisis

http://notthetreasuryview.blogspot.co.uk/2012/01/migrants-benefits-and-public-services.html

http://www.cream-migration.org/files/Press_release_A8fiscalimpact.pdf

Immigration raises income:  http://www.slate.com/blogs/moneybox/2013/04/22/immigration_raises_american_income.html

Crime doesn't rise in high immigration areas:
http://m.guardian.co.uk/uk/2013/apr/28/immigration-impact-crime

Compilation of research:
http://www.europarl.org.uk/view/en/Food_for_Thought/UKEUMigration.html

On lump of labour fallacy:
http://blogs.telegraph.co.uk/news/jameskirkup/100208823/immigration-if-only-politicians-would-lead-not-follow/

Reflections on growth and immigration:
http://notthetreasuryview.blogspot.co.uk/2013/04/the-economic-objectives-of-immigration.html

The problem with Migration Watch:
http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/commentators/jonathan-portes-the-pressure-group-playing-fast-and-loose-with-evidence-6287414.html

06 April 2013

The Lost Voice of Liberalism


I finally left the Liberal Democrats a few weeks ago, after Nick Clegg’s anti-immigration stanceThis has really crossed the line for me. 

I was supportive of the coalition in the first year and thought that many of the initial policies demonstrated responsibility and a liberal approach. Since then, the Liberal Democrats have acted as a fig leaf for catastrophic government policies. It is disheartening to hear Liberal Democrats defending failed austerity policies, passing NHS plans that mimic the privatisation of the 1990s, and nodding through a welfare reform that demonises the unemployed at a time when finding a job is difficult. To my knowledge, there has been no effort to investigate the best policies by comparing with other European systems. Indeed this government has succeeded in isolating Britain from the EU. The Liberal Democrats have failed to be the voice of liberalism.

Over the years, I have been ignored by the party even though the policies I suggested were sound, including raising the issue tax avoidance through various loopholes such as transfer pricing (see article), and reform of higher education rather than play around with fees (see post). I am, therefore, under no illusion that I could possibly influence the leadership to change course. Yet, last month, I wrote to Nick Clegg (see previous post) asking for the Liberal Democrats to stop the government’s proposals to curtail benefits for immigrants. Not only did I not receive a reply, but I witnessed the Liberal Democrats’ leader espouse the same xenophobic rhetoric.

This is not a compromise resulting from being in government; it is a populist and degrading move. It is not economically sound, it will only mean more illegal immigration. If there is growth, something the government has lost sight of, there will be immigration. If there is no growth, immigrants leave or choose better economies. Immigration brings enormous benefits (see Jonathan Portes’ blog post). 

There are problems, of course, mostly dependent on the excessive restrictions on immigration that create trafficking and illegal immigration, that force immigrants to blackmailed and live in appalling conditions.  It is also a challenge to provide good services, make the economy grow for all and build trust among all residents. It is the challenge of a pluralist society. Thus, above all, rules on immigration portray what kind of society we want to be

It seems that the government wants a closed, fearful and racist society. This is not the Britain I know, but I might be wrong. It might be the Britain the government is fostering. I, therefore, refuse any association with this government. The country has lost the voice of liberalism, the Liberal Democrats have lost all dignity.

05 March 2013

Immigration, Mr Clegg, ain't so bad!

My letter to Nick Clegg on the latest proposals on immigration.

Dear Mr Clegg,

I have read about the latest government proposals over benefits for immigrants and I am shocked that the Liberal Democrats do not seem to be opposing the changes. The whole debate on immigration has been dominated by negative and hateful rhetoric for many years. I have been living in the UK for over 15 years where I have studied, worked and served as a Liberal Democrat councillor. During my years as a councillor, I have never heard my constituents mentioning my nationality. Yet, the media and political parties have legitimised a discourse that is narrow-minded, racist and bigoted.

The loss of confidence in the immigration system is not a result of Labour’s miscalculation of possible Polish immigrants, as you suggested in an interview, but the constant negative rhetoric over immigration and foreigners, and the inability of implementing effective policies. A report by the Migration Observatory of the University of Oxford found that public opinion in Britain is more strongly opposed to immigration than public opinion in other comparable European and North American countries. Political parties are directly responsible for this.

Another report by the Migration Observatory found that the net fiscal contribution of migrants is higher than the UK-born value. In 2003-2004 the net fiscal contribution of migrants was negative, however it was less negative than that of the UK-born individuals. An LSE report found that immigrants are generally younger and better educated than British-born. They tend to be employed and less likely to live in social housing. There is little evidence of an overall negative impact on jobs and wages.

A recent Home Office report (N. 68, November 2012) reported on the emigration from the UK. In 2011, 57% of the people emigrating from the UK were EU and non-EU citizens. The “migration of EU citizens is more ‘circular’ than of non-EU citizens”. Thus, the ‘threat’, if there ever was one, of a surge of immigrants from Bulgaria and Romania lacks evidence.

Immigration rhetoric has only produced bad policies, including the revenue-making test and ceremony for British naturalisation, not to mention its absurd and ideological questions. The way successive governments have tried to define ‘Britishness’ has bordered on racist. I do not believe the government propaganda reflects the Britain I know, which is far more liberal than its political parties and media. 

Considering that “the UK ranks eighth highest in the world in terms of the number of its nationals living abroad”, the British government should welcome and support new immigrants. It is when one feels valued that one is encouraged to give back. Leaving one’s country is always difficult and painful. This should not be exacerbated by spite and discrimination.  The government proposals go against fundamental liberal principles, European citizenship and, above all, human dignity. Are the Liberal Democrats capitulating to the same xenophobia? 

yours sincerely,

Francesca

25 February 2011

The Politics of Going Beyond Politics

I very rarely speak in the Council Chamber. It is not the place for honest exchange of views. Last night I spoke in the two debates: the Corporate Plan (the plan for the city) and the Budget. It was difficult to condense my thoughts in 2-3 minutes, which is what might have caused the consternation, confusion and support from across the benches. On the other hand, it might have been quoting Aristotle in the original greek :)

What I meant to say was that the role of government has changed radically. This should not mean that ‘there is no such thing as a society’, nor should it mean privatisation of services. It means that we need to create society anew.

We need to think of what people value rather than what services we are used to deliver. In my research, I see churches providing many services for the local community, which are paid and delivered by church members. I believe the Council should assist those efforts. I also believe private donors should help too.

When I said that I don’t want my party to assume what I value and what my constituents value, I meant that I don’t want them to think of services as they are delivered today but of what is actually needed and valued. We need to think of services as activities which might be delivered in a different way and in different places.

I said that we should forget our party lines because I can see the valuable work that happens in committees where councillors of all parties sit together. The job of rebuilding society anew is too big and too important for political point scoring.
Our most important allegiance is to the people out there, not the party.

It shouldn’t be about cutting costs or simply sharing the costs with others. It needs to be about re-framing public services together with people out there, together with organisations, individual citizens and businesses. I’m calling for councillors to work in cross-party groups, or task & finish groups, or whatever other way, leave their colours aside, and start thinking for real.

That is the zoon politikon, the political animal, of Aristotle.

(I'll try to upload the webcast when it becomes available)

24 February 2011

Human rights are British values

Good for Ken Clarke for avoiding to take the populist stance. Instead he focussed rightly on how to make the European Court of Human Rights work properly. This doesn’t mean pandering to the worst sentiments of the population.

My grudge with MPs is that they don’t understand that their populist rhetoric (see last post) harms us all, even them. When governments lack popularity, they blame somebody else. So our enlightened government blame the judges and Brussels. They reclaim sovereignty without having clear what sovereignty actually means. If sovereignty is of the people then the people should decide, which makes the foundations of representative democracy shake. Beware of what you wish; it might just come back and bite.

The point of a representative democracy is to allow the building of consensus instead of the fragmentation of interests pursued with no regard for the interests of others. Decisions need to be taken at the most appropriate level. There’s no point in talking tough or soft on immigration, the environment and the economy on your own. These things don’t stop at our borders, therefore, close co-operation is essential. One of the most important factors in bringing the economy down was the lack of transparency and the low level regulation across Europe and especially in the UK and USA. The global economy is a fact; we need to make it work properly. No country subsists on its own.

Politicians blame Europe and, yet, we all like the fact that EU directives ensure the safety of our food. Indeed we demand better labelling of products. We like competition rules that are fair on consumers rather than favour specific companies (which is what nation states tend to push for!). We all like the fact that, if we have an accident, or we fall ill, or we need treatment for a chronic illness, and we are abroad (within the EU), we have free access to healthcare. Yet, we want Europe ‘off our backs’. I don’t. I want Europe to do more.

We might think the NHS as a ‘national treasure’, but there are differences between the health system in Scotland, Wales, England and Northern Ireland. People have been travelling across Europe shopping for better health treatments for sometimes. We need a set of patients’ rights that would apply across Europe.
There are people who commute regularly across countries. We need legislation to guarantee that they are not penalised. According to research, there are people counting the days they can spend in their country of birth meeting families not to incur into a change in the tax system. Legislation is for citizens, to protect them and enable them to carry on with their lives. It is not a badge of national pride.

This is because we have rights that derive from the dignity we give to being human. Human rights are not a kind concession of nation states, but a claim in front of any other party. Nation states exist in our minds and they might serve some purpose, but human beings exist in concrete reality. There will always be instances of plaintiffs who are vexatious and trying to make a point in court. There will be instances of judges getting it wrong and making uninspired or controversial decisions.

This is human nature. It does not invalidate the importance of human rights. It reminds us of our duty to make it work, not to brand it as foreign. This is where Blair and Cameron have been wrong when talking about ‘British values’. British values are European values and human values. If our own government can't grasp human rights, what hope have we got of delegitimising terrorism?

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights was born out of the ashes of the millions who died in the Second World War. They perished largely because of nationalism. Their deaths cause the international community to draft a declaration for the recognition of every one’s rights. Did they die in vain?